As an ardent fan of the Indian Cricket Team who backs the team to perform consistently well, it is tiring to talk about the topic time and time again. And yet, neither do we stop talking nor has there been any improvement over the last couple of years in terms of what I refer to. And if you need a most recent example that will animate your memory more than ancient ones, the Indian top order's dismal showing against the West Indian quicks at the Kensington Oval in Barbados on Sunday (May 9, 2010) is a case in point. And what was pathetic to see was that even someone like Gambhir, who has become very accomplished over the last two seasons, looked ungainly against the short stuff although one must admit that the delivery that got him was a jaffa; lesser batsmen may not have got a glove to it.
Although we did not give away many wickets to the short delivery directed well, the discomfiture and the toad-hopping was visible for all to see. Consequently, the Indian batsmen could not put the bad stuff away. Vijay got a half tracker which he hit right down the throat of the man at deep square-leg - the only man there. Yusuf Pathan later in the day, when all was almost beginning to get lost, once again showed his vulnerability against the shorter stuff as he holed out at square-leg.
One can go on forever about selection - not only about the composition of the playing eleven but also the fifteen member squad picked for the tournament but India's display in this T20 World Cup is likely to once again herald a discussion that unfortunately seems undying as far as the new generation of Indian batsmen are concerned. Harsha's words summing Raina's discomfort against quick short bowling can be justifiably generalised to every other player, perhaps with the exception of Yuvraj Singh (who has not been in form) and M. S. Dhoni who at least tries to attack short-pitched stuff: "This is a generation of cricketers which looks extremely good only in some conditions..." I could not agree more. Bhogle's tweets this morning signify much the same as well.
I have no disrespect for the Rainas, the Rohit Sharmas or the Yusuf Pathans; but what one fails to understand when they go slam-bang in batsman-friendly conditions in the IPL back home is precisely what one understands when one sees them settle back to mortality against world class quick bowling. Some may say that T20 and one-day internationals are the lot for these cricketers but that is not only a parochial way of looking at it - for most of these cricketers may want to match wits with the best at the test level some day - but entirely misses the point. Excuses are the quickest way to sink down a bottomless pit and shamefully enough we have always been good at giving them.
The problem, however, has its parentage in the times of which these cricketers are a part: short boundaries, flat pitches to encourage high-scoring affairs which somehow inexplicably - and abominably - attract big crowds, curtailments on a bowler's freedom (as if the game were not batsman-friendly already!) and all the rest of it. For batsmen from the subcontinent in particular - and I include Pakistan and Sri Lanka too for they have not played the short stuff all that well either - success in domestic cricket gives a false sense of security and lulls them into a state of achievement, or worse, even complacency. That is because not only do they not get to see anyone who is even a shadow of a Steyn, a Jerome Taylor or a Lee but they also play on wickets which are either square turners or have nothing in it for the bowlers. This cannot be good preparatory ground for any cricketer.
Some may tell me, and have told me so in the past: what's wrong in playing to one's strengths? Since Australians never prepare turners and South Africa never prepares slower wickets when Sri Lanka or India visit thereabouts, why should we prepare sporting wickets? I am tempted to answer the counterpoint in two ways. Playing to one's strength is NOT wrong at all and the analogy of other countries playing on conducive backyards is indeed an argument which holds some tooth. However, at the domestic level playing 'only' to one's strengths turns out to be detrimental, not for anybody else but for domestic cricketers who grow up in those backyards. At the end of the day, a ground curator may get a glare or a stern rebuke; the board may get away with some uncharitable headlines from the media; but domestic cricketers when they travel abroad to make the cut fail to make the grade. And that is a terribly sorry state of affairs.
I am candidly unconcerned about the prosperity, or lack of it, of T20 cricket. I am a self-proclaimed supporter of the game played hard, tough, patiently and diligently in whites across five days. And despite the frenzy the game's quick bite format has created, I still think we have not come to a stage where players may consciously abandon the idea of playing test cricket which shows how much esteem the game's traditional format hold's in everyone's heart. But the developments elsewhere in the game may soon bring a stage where some are just not good enough for the long format and the long haul.
A Mahela Jeyawardena or a Jacques Kallis epitomises those who have made the shift from being class test players to fine T20 cricketers. And yet the game also has Yuvraj Singhs who do not just have the right temperament, or in fact the technique, to handle the sustained belligerence of good fast bowling in a test match. A Virendra Sehwag - even though he does not play the hook or the pull - is an exception, and exceptions are better left alone. And if the indications of the modern breed of Indian middle order batting is anything to go by, I shudder to think of the day when Dravid and Tendulkar will both have hung up their boots. I know no individual is indispensable and the Indian Cricket Team, like any unit of many members, will survive their retirement. But if we want to make the transition anywhere near smooth, the BCCI has to do some quick thinking on a lot of fronts. It has had to do that for a number of years and has not done it. One hopes at least that the continued barrage of bouncers against the mid-twenties of the Indian batting line up and their obvious maladroitness in handling it wakes up some dull minds and sets some constructive action in motion.